NASCAR Drive for Diversity (D4D) recently announced its 2014 class of young, up and coming multicultural and female drivers and one of the headliners of the group is Ryan Gifford.
Gifford, a 24 year old from Tennessee, made history in 2010 by becoming the first African-American driver to win a NASCAR K&N Pro Series East pole position. He also scored his first East win at Richmond last year, as well as making his Nationwide debut for Richard Childress Racing.
“First of all, it’s awesome to be back with the team,” Gifford said as he returns to his same Rev Racing team from last season. “It’s rare to get this opportunity this many times and I’m looking forward to having a really good year.”
“I think we’re going to bring back most of the same guys on the team and I’ll have the same crew chief Mark Green,” Gifford continued. “We had a good run last year and I really like all my guys.”
“They work their guts out for me and I think that’s what it takes.”
“I know Mark’s really excited and they’ve put a lot of work into the cars over the winter,” Gifford continued. “Really for me, I’m excited to have new cars coming together. And when I go to the shop and see everyone working, I think it will be a really cool year.”
While Gifford admits that he learned many lessons from last year, the biggest lesson learned sounds easier said than done.
“I’ve learned just to be confident in myself really,” Gifford said. “To know that I can go out there and be fast and know I’m capable of doing it this year, which means everything to me.”
“I want to go out and win the championship this year.”
Gifford has also learned a great deal about the tracks on which he has competed. This has been especially challenging for the young D4D competitor as his background has primarily been on the local dirt tracks.
“For me, my best tracks where I feel most comfortable are the companion races and the faster tracks,” Gifford said. “I don’t have a lot of experience on pavement even though I’ve driven in the K&N Series for four years.”
“Before that, I raced all dirt,” Gifford continued. “So, all those kinds of race tracks compare more to the dirt than the little, slower short tracks that we go to. I think the slower places are the ones I struggle at more.”
“But last year, I did really well there too so I think this year will be fun,” Gifford said. “I know I still have a lot to learn but I’ve learned some of them the hard way. I think I’ve got a little experience under my belt and I’m ready to go for it.”
While Gifford will most certainly be concentrating on asphalt racing, his heart and roots remain in dirt and he will continue to race late models whenever possible.
“I think I’m looking at about 15 races this year,” Gifford said. “So, it will be exciting to fit all that into the schedule and try and make everything work.”
“But I’m really excited to be able to do all that and it really helps to stay in the seat when we have two or three weeks off.”
How does the young D4D competitor intend to balance the rigors of racing so often and on so many different surfaces?
“I think just staying in the race car is the biggest thing that helps me balance it all,” Gifford said. “And staying in different kinds of race cars helps me adapt.”
“I need to be a really versatile driver so that part will keep me mentally focused and not thinking about other things,” Gifford continued. “Aside from that, I stay busy at the shop and every now and then I try to squeeze in a work out to try to keep myself in shape. That keeps me comfortable when I’m in a race car.”
Gifford has been significantly influenced by Richard Childress Racing, from the choice of his racing idol to his two best friends in the sport.
“In the past, my racing idol has always been Dale Earnhardt but then, once I moved here, I’ve gotten to know the Dillon brothers and they are kind of like my brothers now,” Gifford said. “They have let me live with them for a couple of years and they’re really good friends.”
“Seeing them go up through the ranks and handle everything has been really cool and I really look up to both of them.”
Fans of the up and coming racer may also be surprised with his day job and his ability to work on his own race cars.
“I still work at the shop and I still work on Austin and Ty’s cars,” Gifford said. “That’s pretty much my during the week job.”
“Even K&N racing is still not the big time yet so you have to do what you can to pay the bills,” Gifford continued. “It’s a lot of fun to work on those cars.”
“I can pretty much build a race car from the ground up so I’m for sure a gear head,” Gifford said. “I’ve always had to work on my own race cars and to build them and keep them up so, I’ve learned pretty much every angle of the sport that I can, including building the cars and servicing them.”
“I think that’s a cool fact for fans to know.”
But what Gifford really wants fans to know is how he intends to approach his 2014 Drive for Diversity K&N Pro Series season.
“If I could choose one word to describe how I feel about the year and participating in the Drive for the Diversity Program it would be confident,” Gifford said. “I’m really excited for this year and can’t wait to get started.”